Doesn’t the federal government have better things to do than outlaw Internet betting on the Super Bowl?
Los Angeles Times / latimes.com
June 9 2006
THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES is due to vote soon on proposals to ban online gambling, and the deck seems stacked in favor of sound bites over sound policy. Federal law already outlaws businesses from using phone lines to place or receive bets across state lines, particularly when the bets are on sporting events. That restriction, although it’s not a clear ban on Internet gambling, has stopped the country’s major casinos from taking bets online. What it hasn’t done is stop Web users from gambling around the clock at offshore sites, often based in Central America and the Caribbean. According to one estimate, offshore sites offering poker games, sports betting and casino-style gambling collect $12 billion a year, about half of it coming from American wallets.
In response, the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill last month that would explicitly ban online gambling businesses of all kinds. Even worse, to cut off the money supply for virtual gaming, the committee also backed a bill that would impose significant new regulatory burdens on financial companies, which would be barred from supporting electronic wagers or payouts. The bills are expected to be consolidated and debated on the House floor this month.
All of which raises the question: Doesn’t the federal government have better things to do than try to block people from going online to make a wager on the Super Bowl or the Final Four?
Supporters of the measures insist they are trying to curb the spread of gambling addiction, protect minors and crack down on unscrupulous offshore operators. They may be right about online gambling’s link to self-destructive spending, given its isolating, rat-at-the-pellet-bar quality. But the fact that the House bills wouldn’t outlaw online betting on horse racing, which Congress allowed states to authorize in 2000, seems to belie the sincerity of the effort. And isn’t it a hallmark of a free society that we don’t outlaw otherwise inoffensive vices simply because some people harm themselves?
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